I want to write a warning for anyone who may be triggered by reading this. The following topics will be discussed: depression, anxiety, autism, and suicide. I value every person dearly and ask that if you think that this article will affect you negatively, please refrain from reading this. Thank you.
“Anxiety is the fear of nothingness.” -Peter Rollins
“Anxiety is fear mixed with control. When you can’t control something, the only thing left to do is to rage.” -Andy Mineo
It seems like everyone these days are talking about mental health. There’s talk in the world of gun control on whether there’s a mental health problem or not. Artists are beginning to openly talk about their struggles with anxiety and depression. There have been a few suicides by celebrities over the past year. Mental health is becoming a huge topic, but what are people saying and why does mental health matter?
According to the National Network of Depression Centers, “depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15-44”. Imagine that. The leading disability among folks in the United States is depression. This diagnosis embodies an entire generation of citizens. According to the Pew Research Center, the oldest Millenials were born in 1981 and the youngest was born in 1996. The oldest of them is 37 and the youngest of them are 22 as of the year 2018. We face the realization that an entire generation of people, as well as some of the Generation X folks and the Post-Millenials, suffer from depression. This is a serious problem considering that suicide is ranked as the leading cause of death among the same folks who are ages 15-44. This leads to the question of “why?”.
One of the factors is social media. Igor Pantic Ph.D. wrote a very interesting article where he states that there is “a statistically significant positive correlation between depressive symptoms and time spent on [social networking sites]. One of the theories that are proposed is that people who are on social media only share the best parts of their life. Igor expands on this by saying, “Perceiving others as happier and more successful does not necessarily result in depression. However, in individuals who already have certain depressive predispositions as well as other psychiatric comorbidities, this may further negatively impact mental health.” This poses a huge question about how people on social media view themselves and the relationships that they have. While the article that Pantic writes says that there is no strong support that social media causes depression, Pantic does say, “It seems that when social networks and the Internet in general are used to strengthen and maintain social ties, particularly within family members and close friends, the resulting social support has beneficial effects on mental health. On the other hand, extensive use of SNS outside these circles might weaken existing close family and friend interactions and increase feelings of loneliness and depression.” If we distance ourselves from face to face interaction and relationships with people in our life, we miss the tangible relationships that are in front of us. This increases the loneliness that we feel and increases an already depressed state. Social media can increase loneliness and depression, but where does it start?
In Psychology Today, Grant H. Brenner MD wrote about the genetic risks of major depression. In his article, he talks about a groundbreaking study where scientists found 44 loci, or genetic markers, that are “independently associated with an elevated risk for [major depression disorder]”. These markers push a huge scientific breakthrough. Depression is not only genetic, but we realize now that there are a lot more genetic factors that go along with this mental state. People are born this way, and there’s nothing that they can do to change their genetics.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve suffered from depression. I have loved ones who suffer from depression. What frustrates me is when people point at others with mental disabilities and call them full of sin. I’ve so often heard Christians point at others and say that depression is demonic. Genetics are not demonic. If they are, then every single one of us carries the seed of Satan. How illogical that is! If you’re depressed, don’t worry about these toxic people. While they don’t help with your depressive state, know that there are figures in the Bible who struggled with depression. Here are a few examples:
- David, King of Israel, who was “a man after God’s own heart”.
- Moses, the one who led the Israelites out of the Egyptian oppression.
- Job, who God loved and blessed after losing everything he had.
- Elijah, who performed many miracles including bringing a child back to life.
Depression runs rapidly among folks in the Bible. What’s astonishing is that so many people look at depression and anxiety as a sin. How could it be a sin if we are born that way? To make things even more interesting, how can depression and anxiety be a sin when there is an entire book of the Bible surrounding depressing ideas: Ecclesiastes? Not only does Ecclesiastes relate that our works and lives are meaningless, but it prescribes an underlying message and resolves to the nihilism of the book. Ecclesiastes offers the same resolution as on outcome that absurdism offers: leaning on a religious foundation to make meaning in life. The resolve is to love God, because even if life is shitty- God is still God and life will still be shitty.
While depression and anxiety are rapidly rising, there’s another disorder that is highly being talked about: Autism Spectrum Disorder. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. To put it into a better perspective, between 1-2% of children have been diagnosed with this disorder. Why is it important if the percentage is so low? The answer is simple. Every year the statistic changes and more children are diagnosed with this disorder.
WebMD states, “Autism is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors.” While this may not seem like a lot, the brain of someone with ASD may not relate well to changes in an environment, routine, or system. People with ASD tend to like routine, have a hard time with communication, and can be put off by social interactions. This varies per case. WebMD goes on to explain, “Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It covers a large spectrum of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment. ASD ranges in severity from a handicap that somewhat limits an otherwise normal life to a devastating disability that may require institutional care.” In other words, not every person is going to have the same exact symptoms. This disorder is on a spectrum, and that spectrum is wide in range.
Why did I speak about autism? When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with a mild form of autism. I spent most of my life denying it thinking that autism was something that only freaks had. I spent my years denying a very part of me that I ignored and thought God would heal me of if I really had it. I believed God did heal me of it. In a way, God did. I am healed because I realize that ASD doesn’t make me weird. ASD doesn’t make me less of a person. ASD doesn’t make me not capable of being an adult. I realized that I was made in the image of God- holy and divine. I am created beautifully and I am thankful that I have ASD. God healed me of my prejudice, blindness, and ableism.
Why did I speak about anxiety, depression, and suicide? When I was a child, I was diagnosed with depression. It went away for over seven years, but when my faith fell apart, I found my depression weigh on me as the world faded to grey. On the other side of my depression, I have a wife with clinical depression. I’ve spent time at night listening to how she wishes she was dead and stayed up until two in the morning worried that the next time she gets out of bed would be her last. I’ve driven her to the ER to make sure she has medication to help cope with her mental illness. I’ve even experienced the thoughts of suicide myself. I know what it’s like to have a chain around my neck as the oxygen in my lungs ceases to exist. I know what it’s like to wish my blood would drown me. I know what it’s like to feel like life isn’t worth it. My life is surrounded by mental illness, but it’s also surrounded by God.
I’ve grown frustrated with the idea that mental illness is a sin. Being born the way we are is a grand design. Life is shitty. Life is hard. Life can feel unbearable, yet life is so beautiful. I’m not ashamed of my mental illness, and to be honest most people wouldn’t even know unless I told them. I hope that this will open the eyes of others. Mental Illness does not mean that we are separate from the divine. Mental illness is sacred in its own way. We have got to begin advocating for a better understanding of mental illness to those who are ignorant and blinded by horrible religious ideologies.
You are not weird. You are not crazy. You are not alone.
You are beautiful. You are whole. You are loved.